Nursing School website wins national grant

With a new grant in their hands, researchers at the Yale School of Nursing are researching the possibility of making a social networking site for teens with Type 1 diabetes.

The team was awarded $750,000 from the American Diabetes Association to continue trials on their online program to help teenagers with Type 1 diabetes cope with the disease, according to a Jan. 26 press release. The grant will fund improvements in TeenCope, an online program that simulates situations teenagers with diabetes might encounter by using graphic novel animations. The researchers will use the grant money to conduct research about the possibility of turning TeenCope into a social networking site, in addition to completing other improvements.

“[TeenCope] helps teens not to feel so alone and to know that there are other teens out there that are feeling the same way and are dealing with the same things,” said Robin Whittemore, professor of nursing and co-principal investigator of the project.

Initially launched in 2007, TeenCope involves five tutorials teaching a specific skill, including stress management and conflict resolution. In each one, animated graphic novel characters face situations that the teens could encounter in real life. Teens can also create their own profiles and join discussion groups with each other moderated by a healthcare professional, Whittemore said.

With the ADA grant money, researchers will be able to perform the necessary clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of transforming TeenCope into a social networking site connecting teenagers across the nation. The program’s developers will also use the money to integrate an online educational program aimed at problem solving into TeenCope, expediting the process needed to launch this new feature..

Margaret Grey, dean of the Yale School of Nursing and one of the researchers developing TeenCope, said that most programs for teenagers with diabetes focus on physical education or providing educational information on how diabetic teens can take better care of themselves. TeenCope is different, she said, because it focuses on enhancing coping skills, through behaviors like social problem solving and stress management.

“We know that … education [alone] doesn’t help behavior,” Grey said. “Increased knowledge doesn’t increase behavior. You have to increase the skill.”

Grey added that during the developing of TeenCope the team researched the effectiveness of similar programs and asked teenagers for feedback on what they found most helpful.

Kevan Herold, professor of immunology and endocrinology at the School of Medicine, commended the program, adding that diabetes is especially dangerous to teens because common teenage behavioral habits lead to “terrible blood sugar control” within this demographic. Poor blood sugar control causes complications in the disease, said Herold, who researches mechanisms to create more efficient diabetes drugs and published a study suggesting that suppressing the immune system may prevent Type 1 diabetes in the journal Science Translational Medicine, according to a Jan. 25 press release.

According to the ADA, about one in every 400 children and adolescents has diabetes.

Correction: Jan. 30

A previous version of this article and its headline incorrectly identified the professional school with which the researchers were affiliated. It was the Nursing School, not the Medical School.

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